In a season filled with ups and downs, Indiana is wrapping it up on a high note.
The No. 12 Hoosiers held on for an 81-78 win over No. 16 Iowa in Iowa City Tuesday night, claiming the Big Ten regular season title outright.
"It was such a high-level game, the energy in the building was incredible," Crean said on his postgame radio show. "And our guys responded to it. They really did. They responded to it, we never wavered."
It's Indiana's 22nd Big Ten title overall and second in four seasons. It's also the first time Indiana's won multiple Big Ten titles in a four-year period since 1980, 1981 and 1983.
Consider that nearly five months ago, IU fell to 5-3 after a 20-point loss at Duke. Since that time, the Hoosiers (24-6, 14-3 Big Ten) have gone 19-3 since then. They managed to win the title outright despite playing without second-leading scorer and sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. for the entire conference slate.
In Blackmon's absence, others stepped up, most notably senior guard Yogi Ferrell. The Indianapolis native finished with a game-high 20 points, but none were more crucial than the basket he hit with 37 seconds left.
After turning the ball over on IU's previous offensive possession, Ferrell raced down the court after Iowa guard Anthony Clemmons bricked a pair of free throws.
Ferrell rose from the left swing and swished a 3-pointer to give Indiana a five-point lead. It would not relinquish the rest of the way despite Clemmons' 3-pointer making it a one-possession game with nine seconds left.
"I think we'll be shocked if we don't look at that shot and we don't see great footwork, great follow-through," Crean said. "Just right on point with his shot."
Indiana had led by as many as 14 in the second half before a 17-3 Iowa run tied the game at 70 with 6:20 remaining. The Hawkeyes regained the lead twice over the next 2:21, but its one-point lead on an Adam Woodbury free throw with 3:59 left would not hold on.
A strong first half aided Indiana, which entered halftime with a six-point lead due in large part to the efforts of their four freshmen - Thomas Bryant, Juwan Morgan, Harrison Niego and OG Anunoby.
Together, the group accounted for nearly 40 percent of Indiana's minutes in the first half as a result of the foul trouble levied against Ferrell and junior forwards Troy Williams and Collin Hartman. Bryant, Morgan, Niego and Anunoby finished with a combined 23 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
"Those guys are mainstays on our team," Crean said.
Fifth-year guard Nick Zeisloft started in place of injured sophomore guard Robert Johnson and added 11 points for the Hoosiers. Johnson was a game-time decision entering Tuesday night, and Crean had no update on his status after the game other than saying the team "wouldn't rush" Johnson's return.
For the Hoosiers to accomplish what they did without Johnson was impressive. Now, they can add to their NCAA tournament resume by closing out the season at home vs. Maryland on Sunday.
"If we can build on this resiliency that they have had throughout this season, especially from early December into mid December, and then certainly as we got into the Big Ten season, we can keep getting better," Crean said. "And we are. I think we're a product of their hard work and improvement. I think it shows, and I think there's more to get."